Myofunctional therapy exercises strengthen the tongue and other facial muscles that control breathing. These exercises can help prevent snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. They’re recommended for people suffering from conditions such as orofacial myofunctional disorders (OMDs) such as mouth breathing, as well as sleep-disordered breathing, sleep apneas, and other disorders such as chronic sinusitis and temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD).
Therapists often prescribe or suggest the exercises during initial visits, especially if patients report symptoms related to these myofunctional disorders. But you don’t necessarily need to see a therapist to benefit from these simple exercises. Most dentists offer them as part of routine checkups; some even make them a standard part of their office visits.
How Common Are Oral Myofunctional Disorders?
The prevalence of OMDs is difficult to determine because many cases go undiagnosed. However, it’s estimated that about , which include problems with the lips, jaw, tongue, throat, and airway. The most common are:
- Incorrect tongue and lip resting posture consisting of an open mouth and a low, forward resting position of the tongue against and between the teeth (also known as tongue thrust)
- Incorrect swallowing patterns
- Poor oral habits and behaviors such as thumb and finger sucking or extended pacifier use as well as fingernail biting, lip biting, lip licking, lip and tongue sucking habits
What Is Myofunctional Therapy?
The term myofunctional means “relating to muscle function.” It’s used in this context because it refers to the relationship between your facial muscles and your oral cavity. The purpose of myofunctional therapy is to improve the way your jaw and facial muscles function so that they don’t interfere with your ability to breathe while sleeping.
Who Can Benefit From Myofunctional Therapy?
- People who have difficulty breathing through their nose due to nasal obstruction, allergies, or other reasons
- People who experience excessive daytime sleepiness
- Children who are diagnosed with adenotonsillar hypertrophy (a condition in which enlarged tonsils cause airway blockage)
- People who suffer from temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which causes pain and stiffness in the jaw area
- People who have had surgery on the jaw area
- People with cleft palate
- People who have undergone orthognathic surgery (jaw reconstruction)
- People who have suffered trauma to the head or neck area
- People who have experienced an injury to the jaw area
Is Myfunctional Therapy for Adults or Children?
Myofunctional therapy is appropriate for adults and children alike. It is most effective when performed by a trained professional. If you’ve been prescribed myofunctional therapy exercises by your dentist, he or she will likely recommend that you perform them under supervision.
If you’ve never tried them before, start slowly and work up to longer periods of exercise. If you find yourself struggling to complete one set, try breaking it into smaller sections. For example, you could perform five sets of five reps each. Or, if you want to increase your endurance, try doing 15 reps every week.
Common Myofunctional Therapy Exercises
There are several different types of myofunctional exercises available to help treat various conditions. Here are some of the most common ones:
Tongue push-ups: Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of the mouth behind the upper teeth. Press upward and hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Vowel practice: Practice pronouncing each vowel out loud. For example, say “a” (as in “cat”), then “e” (as in “bet”), etc. Repeat this exercise several times per day.
Tongue click: Use your tongue to produce a clacking sound by tapping it against the roof of your mouth. Do so for 15 seconds, then repeat the sequence 10 times.
Tongue in cheek: Try sticking your tongue into your cheek, then touching the tip of your tongue with your finger through your cheek. Press your tongue against your finger for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
Tongue stretches: Stick your tongue out sideways and stretch it as far as you possibly can to the left. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat the sequence stretching your tongue to the right. Do this 10 times before doing the opposite direction.
Tongue rolling: Stick out your tongue and roll it so it looks like a taco shell. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Do it again 10 times.
Sing: We promise this activity is enjoyable. Sing along with a tune you enjoy. Singing exercises your vocal cords and helps strengthen them. Singing regularly may help prevent snoring.
Tongue thrusting: Hold a spoon in your mouth. Thrust your tongue against the spoon. Hold for 10 seconds. Then rest and do it again. Do it 10 times.
In addition to myofunctional therapy, orthodontic treatment can help overcome many oral myofunctional disorders. Orthodontics involves moving misaligned teeth into their correct positions, which can improve jaw position, and tongue posture and relax orofacial muscles. This often improves speech and chewing problems.
Want to learn more? Find out what exercises we recommend by scheduling an appointment today.